How We Lost the Global Battle Against Disinformation and What We Can Do About It – Richard Stengel

By Steuart Pennington

As our election looms on 29 May the use of social media, AI is going to become part of our daily lives as 364 parties compete the National Elections and 1396 the Provincial Elections.

It is often claimed that Brexit was decided by social media campaigns and not the vote of the electorate. Barack Obama’s campaign involved a massively sophisticated social media campaign which tilted the vote in his favour.

In the book by Richard Stengel, previous editor of Time magazine for 12 years, and then employed by the US State Department as Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs he provides colourful behind-the-scenes stories and razor-sharp insights in the first insider report from the front lines of the disinformation wars waged by Russia and ISIS. At the heart of the struggle was the way the Internet allowed people, including Donald Trump, to “weaponize grievance”. Countering this trend is the most crucial challenge for our democracy and free society. Stengel shows how we have failed and what we can do in the future.

Stengel points out how bad actors leverage technology to undermine trust and helps better understand what must be done to protect our democracy.

His book also shows how ‘bad actors’ generally move much faster than government and its cumbersome bureaucracy, very often winning the campaign due to government indecisiveness.

Fake news, blatant lies, factual inaccuracy, distorted context and conventional wisdom madness (being told a lie so often then becomes the truth) are the tools used by political opponents and their social media architects. Stengel give us insights into how incredibly sophisticated these social media wars have become.

There are many lessons for us in South Africa! Remember ‘white monopoly capital’, remember the ‘rogue SARS unit’ remember ‘Lady R and weapons for Russia’, all examples of how a misinformation campaign can have unbelievably serious consequences for a country.

The same is inevitably going to happen in the run-up to our May 29 Election. Forewarned is forearmed! A fascinating read.

Stengel is also the author of ‘Mandela’s Way’ he has a deep understanding and affinity with South Africa.


ISBN 978 1 61185 638 5 Hardcover

ISBN 978 1 61185 902 7 E-book.